The Muskego area was originally home to the Potawatomi tribe, who named it Mus-kee-Guaac which means “marsh.” With three lakes, large forests and abundant game, the area supported a large population of Potawatomi. In 1827, the first European man arrived and established a trading post. Five years later, the Potawatomi ceded their lands in Wisconsin to the U.S. government. Despite being relocated, the Potawatomi continued to return to hunt and fish in and around Muskego lakes until the 1870s.
In 1836, the Luther Parker family arrived from New Hampshire. Others followed, establishing five separate settlements in the town of Muskego: Yankees in Muskego center, English in Durham Hill, Irish in Denoon, Germans in Tess Corners and Norwegians in Lake Denoon. Soon after, the first school and post office were established.
The Norwegian settlement – also known as Muskego Settlement – began in the southern part, now called the Town of Norway. Forty pioneers came to Muskego Lake from Norway in 1839 and flourished. These settlers encouraged numerous Norwegians to settle in the area.
Muskego’s agriculture funded the early settlements with products shipped to Milwaukee by wagon on the “Janesville Plank Road.” This route provided easy access to Milwaukee for agricultural goods and offered Milwaukee city dwellers the opportunity to seek recreation and relaxation in Muskego’s natural beauty. In 1904, the Milwaukee Electric Railway and Light Company opened a trolley line, allowing day trips to Muskego Lakes. Numerous resorts lined the shores of Little Muskego Lake. The trolley line closed in 1939, but the rise of automobiles allowed Muskego to be a recreation destination. Numerous family cottages, beaches and the Muskego Beach Amusement Park (1861-1967) – also known as DandiLion Park (1968-1977) – appeared on Little Lake.
The 1920s saw improved roads, such as Janesville and Loomis, which allowed population and commerce to grow. Industry moved to Muskego to escape the congestion and high taxes in Milwaukee. Muskego incorporated as a city in 1964. The past 50-plus years offered advancements in business growth, establishment of civic organizations and the opportunity for this growing community to offer quality schools and community.
Aaron and Elvira Putnam settled near a “big bend” of the Fox River in 1837. Although the Potawatomi Indians camped by the river, white settlers had an establishment near the Milwaukee and Prairieville trails (now County Highway L and State Highway 164). Aaron’s family joined him and built the first sawmill, the inn at the corner of Nevins Street and post office between the years of 1831 and 1846.
In 1893, water from the Hygeia Spring #2 was sold at the Chicago World’s Fair for a penny per glass. The Village of Big Bend was incorporated in 1928.
Town of Norway & Wind Lake
In 1838, Thomas Drought came from Lower Canada seeking a new home in Wisconsin. His search brought him to 160 acres in what is now Norway Township. He was the first white man to settle, followed by family members. The Drought Settlement grew in population when James Ash, Alfred Thompson and George Drougth arrived between 1838 and 1839.
Norwegian settler John Luraas led forty pioneers to the shores of Muskego Lake in 1839. This settlement brought the first organized Norwegian Lutheran congregation in America (1843) and first Norwegian-American newspaper. Cabins were established around the marshes, only to be abandoned during the spring floods. The colony of Norwegians removed to the banks of Wind Lake. The beautiful lake possessed swarms of fish while the surrounding forests offered abundance of game. Fall 1840 saw a large group of immigrants arrive under the leadership of Evan Hansen Heg. Mr. Heg’s farm became a trading post where colonists purchased supplies and received mail.
Heg’s son, Hans Christian Heg, organized the first Norwegian Regiment, part of the 15th Wisconsin. He was the highest ranking Wisconsin officer killed in the Civil War. Colonel Heg Park stands as memorial for this brave settler and soldier.